SUTHERLIN — The City Council must decide whether to double sewer rates to update Sutherlin’s outdated wastewater system.
Mayor Denny Cameron said there isn’t much choice but to approve the city manager’s plan to hike rates for a $21.24 million “sequencing batch reactor” recommended by state environmental authorities.
“We’re not in a position to do anything but support it,” Cameron said. “We tried to look at every other opportunity, but there was always another reason why it wouldn’t work.”
The council has been considering phasing in monthly rate increases that would likely top out at about $65 per month. The deadline to pay back a construction loan will be 2020.
If the city goes forward with the rate increases, the project probably would be funded through a mix of fees, grants and loans. City Manager Jerry Gillham said the increases are in line with lending requirements of the Department of Environmental Quality, the state Infrastructure Financing Authority and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Gillham estimated the project could begin in a year and a half. Construction could take 14 to 15 months.
Gillham expects the DEQ to approve the city’s plans this month. After it does, the council would have little left to do but parse the specifics of how much and when.
“This isn’t something we’re thrilled to be doing, but it’s something we have to do,” Gillham said.
The rate increases would go toward construction of two large basins at the city’s wastewater treatment facility 2 miles west of town on the north side of Highway 138.
About $3 million would go toward purchasing a 200-acre parcel across the highway owned by Lone Rock Timber.
The property includes Ford’s Pond, a log pond used by Lone Rock and Roseburg Forest Products before it. The city plans to store effluent in the pond during the warmest five months of the year, when effluent has the greatest effect on water quality.
“The pond was highly recommended by DEQ,” said Steve Major, president of The Dyer Partnership, a Coos Bay engineering firm retained by the city of Sutherlin.
Sutherlin’s current wastewater system is a patchwork of technologies from different eras, Major said. Wastewater pipes here range from clay and terra cotta from the stagecoach era to cement from the mid-20th century to recent PVC plastic.
The plant’s effluent appears clear and similar to tap water, though it has yet to go through the final stages of purification, Major said. He said he sometimes drinks Class A effluent from his wastewater plants to demonstrate its safety to officials and show he “stands behind his product.”
Effluent from the Sutherlin plant currently goes to the Umpqua Golf Resort, where it’s used to fill the water hazards and used in spray irrigation.
Sutherlin has been in violation of its permit with the DEQ since reaching capacity at its wastewater treatment facility in July 2006, said Paul Kennedy, natural resources specialist for the DEQ. Kennedy has inspected Sutherlin’s wastewater system since the late 1990s.
The new treatment facility would be expected to last 20 years. Its current one has been in use since 1979.
“They’ve taken really good care of it, but it’s time to upgrade,” Kennedy said.
Major said many of the 17 Oregon municipalities he represents built wastewater systems with money from the Clean Water Act of 1972. The financial help constructing wastewater systems led to years of low municipal sewer rates. Now, as the plants enter the end of their serviceable lives, small cities that didn’t set aside money for replacement equipment are paying large sums to modernize.
“Communities thought wastewater didn’t cost much,” he said.
Reedsport approved construction of a $19 million wastewater treatment plant and residents fought back in 2012 with a ballot measure to reverse the council’s decision. A judge later disqualified the ballot measure.
Drain will likely raise its sewer rates to $76 a month, Major said. Yoncalla is looking at building improvements and Coquille and Gold Beach are dealing with similar problems.
The Sutherlin City Council will consider approval of the $3 million Ford’s Pond piece of the project cost at its meeting at 7 p.m. Monday. The city’s budget committee will begin meeting in April or May.
• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or by email at email@example.com.